Time to deliver: Decent work in digital labour platforms

María Belén Fierro

It was mid-2018 and I needed a job. For five years in a row, I waited tables and worked in the food industry. But, like many others, I became unemployed.

Just then, someone pointed to all those folks cycling around Palermo with colourful boxes attached to their backs.

“You’ll be your own boss”, they said. “You’ll set your own schedule,” they said. The perks quickly caught my attention: time flexibility, freedom. So I signed up, did the training and hopped on the bike. Since then, I have been a digital platform worker, delivering food products in Buenos Aires.

Actually, that is what I do for a living. This is who I am: an Argentine woman in my  thirties, living with my parents in their apartment in Almagro neighbourhood. I am a single mother of a 9 year old boy, a medical lab student, and former Deputy Secretary of the “Asociación de Personal de Plataformas” (APP, Spanish for Platform Staff Association), the first workers’ organization that represents digital platform workers in my country, which advocates for better working conditions in our sector.

This is what my daily routine looks like: I have virtual classes early in the morning until noon. Then work until 4 pm. I go back home. I eat. I help my son with his homework. Spend some time with him. Once again, I go back to work around 8 pm, until midnight. I try to complete eight full hours of work each day. It’s quite stressful and the pandemic has made it more intense.

Like any other job, this one has pros and cons. You can organize your working hours to suit your personal life, although the platform demands that you work at specific times, or else. Penalties will lower your scoring and negatively affect your access to future orders. And that’s what gets us paid: the number of delivered orders, regardless of how many hours you are available for the app.

María Belén Fierro

After the COVID-19 outbreak, demand grew considerably. The government said that delivery work was essential, next to key activities such as public health and transportation, among others.

In fact, platform workers have been contributing greatly during this crisis, making it easier for people to avoid being in the streets unless they absolutely have to. It sounds nice to take part in essential work, but having decent work would be much nicer.

María Belén Fierro is inspired by her son in her quest to improve working conditions for everyone. © Martín González Caplan

Treated by the companies as independent contractors, most of us have no social protection benefits, such as pension coverage, health or insurance plans.Sick days? Paid leave? Occupational hazard coverage? It is wishful thinking for now, even when our risks are high.

Exposed to traffic and compelled to speed up, we pick up and drop off goods, handle cash and follow strict sanitary protocols to secure our own and other people’s health. And all without access to public sanitary facilities. We constantly use hand sanitizers and facemasks that companies provide to their workers, yet insufficiently.

Checking the application often is crucial to not missing possible jobs. © Martín González Caplan

The concerns and claims of digital platform workers are gaining more and more visibility. Nowadays, our main priority is protecting our source of income.

Our organization is making efforts to improve digital platform working conditions. Because of the pandemic, it has been difficult to meet and organize, though we keep connected across social networks, email and messaging apps.

Social networks, email and messaging apps have become a vital tool in organizing and protecting workers rights. © Martín González Caplan

I am certain that digital platform work is here to stay. It will continue growing, and it will reshape labour markets in the near future.

That is precisely its opportunity: to become the catalyst of positive transformation by securing decent work and providing basic labour rights to all employees, like in any other sector. This is our goal and this will be our achievement.

Fast facts

  • In Argentina, digital platforms are a recent phenomenon. By July 2020 there were four food-delivery companies operating in Buenos Aires, most of them having started their activity after 2017. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Argentine government considered these services to be essential activities.
  • According to an ILO global survey, workers flexible work schedules, freedom to choose tasks and the choice to work anytime anywhere make platforms popular.
  • Many workers join platforms to earn additional income or due to lack of other employment opportunities
  • Platforms offer traditional businesses new ways to outsource a variety of tasks, services and retail activities, which improves their organizational performance. They also help start-ups grow, and allow some enterprises to reorient their businesses and access wider markets.
  • Solutions to the challenges are cropping up around the world, including a collective bargaining agreement that allows cleaning workers to be recognized as employees in Denmark, a judicial decision extending safety and health legal standards to platform workers in Brazil and the ‘right to disconnect’ and obtain a ‘decent price’ for gig work in France.
  • In 2020, Buenos Aires included digital delivery platforms in its Transit and Transportation Code by modifying the so-called “delivery law”, which had regulated the activity of urban courier or home delivery of food substances since 2016.
  • In 2020, the Argentine Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security presented a draft bill which places couriers under the protection of labour and social security law.
  • 2 out of 3 digital platform workers surveyed by the ILO in Argentina say they have received virtual training from companies on hygiene practices, social distancing, safety and risk prevention measures.
  • Some Chilean platform companies have introduced forms of sickness coverage for riders unable to continue working. Examples include the creation of an “emergency fund” – equivalent to two weeks average pay – to support workers infected with COVID-19 or having been forced to quarantine.
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